*This piece will make a lot more sense if you read this article of which it is a reaction to.
First off, it is apparent that there is a lot of work to be done in the global whisky community. I found it disheartening that the author of ‘WHISKY’S ELITIST SNOBBERY MUST STOP‘ wasn’t comfortable publishing this except under the protection of anonymity. The author is a knowledgeable professional contributing to the whisky industry. She should feel more supported by her colleagues than scared of the backlash of a few. She is, sadly, most certainly not alone in what she describes experiencing. What do they say about taking steps to recovery…first you have to admit you have a problem?
That’s why it’s so refreshing to hear prominent, approachable voices from whisky culture such as Dave Broom voicing his support for the need to be actively more open-minded, inclusive and careful with how whisky is marketed as a product and welcoming as a culture. Leave the divide and conquer empire building to the politicians…we’ll be over at the pub or tasting room having awesome conversations over scrumptious drams. And by we, I mean ladies, gentlemen and multiple generations from all over the world. That’s the power of whisky culture.
For the past two years, I’ve run independent whisky tasting events of my own fruition for this exact reason. Before that, I was just another passionate whisky nerd for many years. It wasn’t uncommon to treat myself to a tasting event or solo night out to explore a few drams; spending a whole month’s fun budget on exploring a few whiskies. It also wasn’t uncommon to be talked down to or grossly hit on by the company I was surrounded by. It was a fucking miracle when I started to find and cultivate the kind of dynamic, interesting, open-minded company I now indulge with. That’s why when some of my friends and colleagues started asking me to teach them about whisky, I figured… why not make this a gathering? Turns out, it was a hit! It’s pretty phenomenal what can happen when you get a small group of about 20 or so curious people in a comfortable environment, teach them a little bit about a few expressions then open up the floor with questions and stories.
Now I’m two years on running these events and things are still booming. Every week I meet people that hear about my ‘whisky thing’ and say they’re interested but not sure if they’ll fit in. These are my people. This is why I do this. That’s not to say long-standing whisky lovers don’t also come along and learn things too. By cultivating an inquisitive social environment I’m doing my bit to show and not just tell people how diverse and amazing the whisky world is on their own terms, in their own time.
I do encourage everyone to try things neat at first then decide how they’d best enjoy a particular whisky. Laugh if you will, but I think there’s something powerful about creating a whisky ‘safe space’ to try and ask anything. So far I’ve found this to be the best way to get people who’ve never tried whisky before to give it a chance. They normally find at least two expressions they really like.
But why do we need to talk about the snobbery, cliquishness and inclusion issues, you say? Because if we don’t, things won’t change. If you really love whisky for the art, alchemy, and science of it, it should sadden you that there are people missing out because they don’t feel welcome. If you’re happy just getting your hands on the ‘Top 10 Whiskies in The World’ and posting bottle and watch shots on Instagram, have fun with that. There will always be a corner of exclusivity and products to satiate that specific demand but it shouldn’t be what people think whisky is about.
There are amazing craft distilleries all over the world that people should know about. Folks pour their lives and sometimes life savings into starting these ventures of fine libation! The least we can do is give them a few sips, if not a visit.
So in closing, my deepest thanks to the refreshing and honest words of both ‘A Whisky Insider’ as well as Dave Broom for bringing up this tough topic. From single malts to mischievous moonshine, it’s on all of us to bring people together through enlightened conversation in a glass.
Author: Ren Butler. Founder of The Whisky Social and Melbourne events host.